Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A bird of a different nature

Merrill Field, Anchorage, Alaska, the site of history … today … when a FedEx Boeing aircraft, a giant bird of white, blue and orange, was the first-ever 727 to land at the historic airstrip..

I'd read about it in the newspaper, about the request to land the aircraft at Merrill which has an aircraft weight limitation of 12,500 pounds or less. However, this was a special occasion. FedEx donated an aircraft to the University of Alaska – Anchorage, for the university's Aviation Technology Center (located at Merrill) so the students can use it for educational purposes. The waiver was approved. So I gathered up a friend, and off we went to witness the event.

Flounder and me in wait mode.
The FedEx 727 left Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport for its short flight and an ETA of 2 p.m. The crowds were unbelievable, with vehicles and people packed around the landing strip, here, there and everywhere. They stood on buildings, on the beds of pickup trucks and the tops of their vehicles.

Coming around ... east, south, west.
The plane was sighted, and then began a long, lazy loop toward the mountains, a turn to the south and then the west, and on it came, big, bold and incredibly beautiful. It floated on the air, heading toward the runway, from the east to the west.

Fly-by complete.
It appeared to hover for a moment above the landing strip and then the pilot rolled on the power and the nose went up reminding me of a hound sniffing the air. It flew by a bit higher than eye level and went out of my line of vision. The first fly-over was complete.

The bird circled, and made the apparent same flight path … a sighting, the turning to the east, to the south, to the west, the lazy way about it as it made another pass over … it didn't mattter that I'd seen it only a few minutes before. It was totally thrilling. And then it was gone. This next time was going to be the real thing, the real deal … a landing and the last flight for this FedEx bird that had been in service since February 1979.

The 727 came around for the third time, but this was different. Hundreds, thousands of eyes were focused on the plane coming toward the end of the runway. It settled in for the landing, it floated onto the runway, and voila! The 727 landed effortlessly on the 4,000-foot-long east-west runway. Noise, reverse thrust, whatever it is they do … it was done. I'd almost swear that bird stopped in as little space as the 150s I used to fly out of this very same airport. Okay, maybe not. But the stopping power and the expertise of the pilots in getting the plane stopped was nothing short of major impressive. The crowd cheered, photos were snapping faster than fingers could fly, and the plane taxied to a stop. What a thrill for everyone that turned out to watch this historic landing.

On the ground.
A tow and a parking spot near the Aviation Technology Center.
Merrill Field was originally known as Aviation Field and was first used in August 1929. It was located one mile east of downtown Anchorage on 436 acres and was the first real airport in the city. It was named in 1930 after Russel Hyde Merrill, an Alaskan aviation pioneer who disappeared in September 1929 on a flight to Bethel. Merrill Field is a commercial service airport mostly used by small aircraft. I learned to fly and obtained my private pilot's license at Merrill myself, back in the late 1960s.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Birds, birds, birds

Wednesday, Feb. 6, I showed up for my first day of volunteering at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center. The organization treats sick, injured or orphaned wild birds, ranging from chickadees to bald eagles with the intent to allow the sick or injured to recover and be returned to the wild. The group also educates thousands of people with live education bird programs.

One of the eagles at Bird TLC (photo by Jaz).  This one (I think it's the female Petra), is used for presentations.
In order to volunteer, I had to have a valid tetanus shot (November 2011) and read a well-put-together volunteer manual, which I'm still reading. All I probably really needed to know for the first day was about cleaning up bird poo and cleaning cages, mats and perches.

As it turned out, that wasn't what I did. Most birds come into the Bird TLC in the morning, so there wasn't any of that to do, and apparently all the cleaning and feeding had been finished. But I was able to do some data entry, including names of people who brought in birds, what type of bird, problem, where found, and the history of the bird and whether it was released or died. Some of the stories I read about the birds were plenty interesting.

Giving some cash to the cash crow, Kodi.  (Photo by Jaz, taken at a Bird TLC open house.
But the best part of my four hours there was that Kodi, the cash crow from Kodiak, was there, just outside the door where I was working. Every time I walked by he'd squawk, which startled me. By the third time I was getting irritated that he'd “get” me every time. Then Guy, the Volunteer Coordinator, let me practice with Kodi on his cash gathering. I'd met Kodi a few weeks prior. He has a trick … he'll take cash from your hand and deposit it in a jar. I played take the cash with him and was allowed to reward him with a mealy worm. I wanted to know if they are alive. Yes. Ick!! Then I was showed where the worms live in the back and how to get more of them. Apparently Kodi won't eat dead ones. I put the first couple on my hand, but then let him pick them out of the little bowl. It was fun, and hopefully he'll get used to me and not try to spook me each time I pass by him.

My second day, Feb. 13, was totally different. No data entry today. I was all geared up in my smock. I chose yellow to remind me of my new motorcycle (yellow and black) and sunshine. It made me feel like part of a team. In through the main door, over the towels and disinfectants and on to the kitchen. There are a couple of things you step in to remove things from your shoes as you go into the clinic area, and you go out the same way to remove possible organisms from your shoes prior to leaving the building.

Coming into the clinic and getting stuff off my shoes.
Today I was helping Denise do food preparation for the birds. We first toured all the bird cages and mews, both inside and outside. We reviewed the charts for each so we knew what each bird had been eating or not eating, how much they were eating, which birds weren't eating well, which ones were. There are some that eat everything they're given, at least one that doesn't really care for salmon, others that prefer their food in small pieces rather than large ones. Even birds have a variety of different appetites, just like people.

This was the first of several packages of salmon.  The cutting board was still clean.
Back to the kitchen we went to start preparing the food. Cut up salmon, cut up hooligan, cut up chicken, cut up caribou. Wow. It was a regular smorgasboard. There are other things you can feed, such as birdy corn bread (a mixture containing corn bread), berries if you have them, and even some fruits and vegetables. We were mostly working with meats for proteins. Most of the birds currently at the clinic are eagles, with a couple of owls, a duck, the crow and a redpoll.

I cut up more stuff than I've cut up in the past two months … more salmon, please. I also ended up cutting some and bagging most of a big bag of caribou that was thawing. I'm surprised I wasn't queasy, but I just did the work. And I felt I was contributing.

I was up to my elbows, literally, in sorting, bagging and tagging caribou meat.
The eagles on Eagle Row, inside the building, are moved, or herded from one cage to the next so their areas can be cleaned. Blankets and people herding are how it's done. I watched as one eagle walked fairly calmly from one cage, through the door, along a short walkway and on through the door and into the cage next door. It's interesting what goes into keeping all of these birds clean, healthy and well-fed. And I'm pleased to be a part of it.

At the bottom of the blanket you can just see the eagle walking from one cage around to the other one, being herded.
There's also an owl who arrived recently and is probably not going to be there when I get back the next time. It's in very poor condition and so to try to keep it comfortable, the crew gave it some fluids. Denise did the honors while others held the bird (with a blanket over its head to help keep it calm). It's a beautiful bird but has had injuries to a foot and talon so it's twisted. It appears to be an old injury and it's possibly been able to feed, but something happened to get it to Bird TLC.

The owl really didn't struggle much.
Denise administers the fluids, while Guy and Sharon hold the owl still.
I wouldn't want this talon grabbing hold of me.
It was a great day. I met some wonderful folks and it felt good to contribute to such a great organization.

Bird TLC is a 501(3)(c) non-profit, always in need of volunteers and donations, either of cash or items such as paper towels, waterproof tarps and garbage bags to name a few. Check out the website at www.birdtlc.net or call (907) 562-4852.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Power up

(All photos by Tom Schulman.  Thank you, Tom.)

Thursday, Feb. 7, I showed up at Chugach Electric, my former workplace. Why would I do that? Part of it is because I go in to pay my health insurance premium (secondary insurance after Medicare) and I usually visit with a few former co-workers since they were my work family for years.

This time I was also there for a few special reasons. I am on the Chugach Nominating Committee, my second year. This is one of three annual meeting committees that are charged with looking and interviewing prospective board candidates, overseeing the election process and reviewing potential bylaw changes. These committees are necessary for a successful election. During many of my working years I was the staff liaison for the Nominating and Election committees and was also charged with recruiting members for all three committees.

Now I'm just a committee member, a volunteer. Partly I'm doing this because so often there are not enough volunteers and partly I'm doing this because as a member, and part owner of Chugach, it is my duty to volunteer to an organization that I own a small piece of. (Yep, ended it with a preposition.)

All geared up.  Safety everything.  I felt like a penguin I had so many clothes on.
The great hook for this meeting was that the committees had been offered a tour of the $369 million SPP (Southcentral Power Project), that Chugach took control of at 11:59 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 31, 22 months after the start of construction. The SPP became operational way ahead of its scheduled June tranfer date.

The Southcentral Power Project, SPP.  Up and running.

Safety first, always.  We were geared up in safety gear and had our safety briefing prior to being taken into the plant.
I'd worked at Chugach when this project was not even a thought in someone's head. Then it became a thought, a design, a purchase, a construction project, a groundbreaking. I had also been on a tour while it was still under construction. While it is not 100 percent complete, it is mostly, and is now operating, and owned by Chugach (70 percent) and Municipal Light & Power (30 percent).

Power control for the plant.  One dispatcher can operate it but the norm will be to have two on duty.

Had to have a photo inside the plant.

The inside is so clean, and there's not a lot of noise like there is at the older plants.   
The SPP is a sight to see. It operates using only about three-quarters of the fuel that the older natural gas-fired units use. It has three natural gas-fired turbines and also has a steam unit that uses the exhaust of the gas turbines to make steam, producing electricity at no additional fuel cost … read very economical.
The steam unit is an efficient use of exhaust from other units ... and the electricity from it is basically free.  Well, except for the cost of the unit.  But it's very economical to use steam units. 
The plant is also set up to be efficient for its workers, and one of the coolest things is you can drive a semi through from one end of the other of the building, making it more efficient and safe to load huge pieces of equipment that need to go in and out of the building. The plant is also quite colorful, with pipes for various things being color-coded … purple, blue, yellow and more.

The color-coding is quite amazing as if there is a problem with something it can immediately be identified due to the color of the pipe or equipment. 
I'm glad I got to go on this tour, twice, once while under construction and once when mostly completed. It was an amazing project, and the largest Chugach has done in years.